INDIANAPOLIS — The belief was there Sunday afternoon, hand-in-hand with an inner calm as the roar from 66,000 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium poured through the open window and roof and into Downtown.
It was there even though so much had gone wrong offensively: another afternoon of leaky pass protection, another pair of Matt Ryan fumbles – that’s seven in three games, if you’re keeping track – a run game that never got untracked.
This is the moment. This will be the drive.
And it was.
It was Matt Ryan showing the way – again – on a 16-play, 76-yard fourth-quarter drive that consumed 8 minutes, 14 seconds and turned a 17-13 deficit into a 20-17 victory.
Instead of dropping to 0-2-1 and further riling the fan base, the Indianapolis Colts halted their early freefall as Ryan hit rookie tight end Jelani Woods with a 12-yard touchdown with 24 seconds remaining.
It was Woods’ second catch and TD of the game and the season.
And it was the 43rd game-winning drive of Ryan’s 15-year career, tied for 6th-most in NFL history with Brett Favre.
“He’s Matty Ice,’’ wideout Michael Pittman Jr. said. “He just iced ‘em.’’
“What he did today is what we expect,’’ added running back Nyheim Hines. We’ve seen the resilience. We’ve seen how he is.
“He’s called Matty Ice for a reason.’’
Ryan completed 8-of-10 passes for 55 yards on the clinching drive, including third-down conversions to Pittman and Parris Campbell. He also gave the drive early life by burrowing for 2 yards on a sneak to convert a 4th-and-1.
Perhaps the most significant play came on Ryan’s fifth sack – at the hands of Nick Bolton – on 3rd-and-6. Chris Jones wound up on top of Ryan. He remained there for a second or two, got up, then exchanged words with Ryan, helmet-to-helmet.
As the dialogue continued, the Colts’ punt team prepared to trot onto the field.
Then, Jones was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. That kept Ryan and the offense on the field.
Clearly, Jones said the secret word, although he insisted it wasn’t anything “vulgar or disrespectful.’’
“He said something, yeah,’’ Ryan said with a smirk. “It was a big penalty. You’ve got to keep you cool sometimes in those situations.’’
Through a pool report, referee Shawn Smith said the flag was thrown for “abusive language towards an opponent.’’
Instead of punting, Ryan and the offense were back in business, 1st and 10 at the Indy 46.
It gave the Ryan-led offense another opportunity to atone for three herky-jerky quarters – five sacks, two fumbles, etc. – and that always has driven him.
Forget about whatever’s happened. Just give me one more shot.
Ryan and the Colts delivered the knockout punch even though they faced a first-and-20 at the KC 39 following a holding penalty against left tackle Matt Pryor.
No problem. Jonathan Taylor broke off a 13-yard gain, then rookie wideout Alec Pierce stretched for a high, hard delivery from Ryan for a 14-yard reception on 2nd-and-7. The game-winner to Woods soon followed.
Any bad plays were a fading memory.
“He has a DB mentality,’’ Hines said of Ryan. “I used to play defensive back and when you get beat deep, shoot, whether they catch or not, you’ve still got to play the next play.
“That’s one thing he’s really good about. He flushes it.’’
“I think some of it has kind of always been there since I was young,’’ Ryan said. “You know, some of it is learned along the way, too, of ‘There’s still time on the clock. We’re still in this game.’ There’s a belief that you’re going to make the play the next time.
“I just have this belief in myself and in the guys around us and there’s an internal confidence that’s there and just regardless of how games shake out, I’ve just seen too many times where you just give yourself a chance and at the end you can find a way.’’
Ryan would prefer not to have to rely on closing heroics, but the confidence allows him to remain upbeat in the face of adverse times. Remember, after struggling in much of the season-opener at Houston, he rallied the Colts from a 20-3 fourth-quarter deficit and got them into position for what would have been a game-winning 42-yard field goal attempt in overtime.
Sunday, so much had gone wrong.
The Chiefs’ defense continue to attack Ryan’s inconsistent pass protection, frequently getting to him with free blitzers. Twice, Ryan fumbled on sacks, losing one. Taylor never got untracked, finishing with 71 yards on 21 carries.
But the defense kept things winnable. The front pressured Patrick Mahomes; the one sack and four other QB hits don’t tell the true impact. Mahomes was just 20-of-35 for 262 yards with one touchdown to Travis Kelce and a game-clinching interception that was tipped by Stephon Gilmore and secured by Rodney McLeod.
And let’s not forget Kansas City’s special teams foibles: a muffed punt in the first quarter that gave the Colts possession at the Chiefs 4 and led to Ryan’s first TD flip to Woods; fill-in kicker Matt Ammendola missing a PAT and a 34-yard field goal; and a failed fake on Ammendola’s 42-yard attempt early in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs kept giving the Colts chances, and Ryan finally obliged.
“There’s always time,’’ he said, “and there’s always time left on the clock and there’s a belief that I’m going to make a play.’’
Ryan saw that in the huddle in the fourth quarter.
“It’s amazing,’’ he said, “We have a group . . . you can see it when you’re in the huddle. You can feel it when you look around and you see how people are looking at you when you’re calling a play or the belief or what you’re saying to them.’’
Ryan’s steely resolve was one of the characteristics that was so attractive when the Colts decided to acquire him in a trade with Atlanta.
“One hundred percent,’’ Frank Reich said. “When you look over the last few years, we’ve had some moment in the fourth quarter where we just didn’t make some plays like we made today to win a game.
“It doesn’t matter that there were some ugly series or there were a couple of fumbles and at times the protection wasn’t what it should be. But Matt Ryan . . . the guy is unflappable.
“That’s what I love about Matt. You cannot faze him. I’ve been around a lot of great ones, but as far as guys that are on to the next play, Matt is certainly as good as anybody I’ve been around. There are some other guys – you know, the Peyton Mannings of the world – but Matt Ryan is unflappable.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.